Just at a time when the entire world is animatedly discussing the importance of Internet freedom, Ethiopia has chosen to be an exception – a stark exception. A new law in the nation, which reportedly was passed on May 24, this year, but did not catch the attention of the world media, until now, has banned the use of Skype, Viber, Paltalk, Yahoo Messenger and Google Voice and ones caught flouting the law will face a prison term of upto 15 years. OPride.com reports that one of the main reasons that the government cited to have triggered the ban were concerns surrounding the nation's security. The report also adds that Skype was believed to be hurting the nation's only, fully-controlled, telecommunications carrier, Ethio Telecom, and a move as such would help them preserve the monopoly of the telecommunications carrier in the country.
The anguished take to Twitter
Quite understandably, the latest move of the Ethiopian government has not gone down too well with the citizens, who have taken to Twitter to voice their anguish. One person tweeted, “Looks like I won't be able to #Skype with my friends in #Ethiopia | http://bit.ly/KI7EnK“, while another tweet read, “RT @mattjduffy Wrong direction :: #Ethiopia criminalises #Skype, #GoogleTalk, other Internet #phone services… http://www.techcentral.co.za/?p=32723 #voip“. The report further adds, “...under the current law, the use of VoIP services carry a two to eight years jail term while provision and use of an Internet phone calling service is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. The new law also gives the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology the ability to supervise and issue licenses to private companies that import communication equipments.” This report also highlighted that VoIP services in the country, allowed users to make long-distance calls, either for free or at reduced rates.
The report also highlights that, “Ethiopia already blocks diaspora-based opposition blogs and independent websites, like OPride.com. The current legislation is part of the government’s heightened efforts to control other communications, which observers say would soon expand to social networks. Only less than one percent of Ethiopia’s estimated 90 million people have access to the Internet, of which 511,240 are Facebook users, according to an estimate by the Internet World Stats website.“
Quoting from a report by Argaw Ashine of Africa Review, the report adds, “Ethio-Telecom has been losing 83 per cent of its income from its international calling business due to the illegal operations of private service providers.“